SPOKANE — Calls to Spokane optometrists began pouring in last weekend along with the smoke as patients sought remedies to relieve eye irritation caused by the worsening irritant in the air.

Those patients’ questions continued this week at Spokane Eye Clinic, said Alan Johnson, an optometrist for more than 23 years at the practice. Johnson said certain tips will help irritated eyes caused by smoke.

“I’m getting many flashbacks to a couple summers ago, and we had about two years in a row when we had a tough go with fires, and that was my first introduction to all the symptoms that can be present with the eyes that are out in that stuff,” he said.

“Back then, and as we are starting to get the calls today, we’re having a large uptick in the number of folks with burning, red, irritated eyes.”

For his patients and others, Johnson has several ideas to care for eyes and protect them from what’s in the air.

Of course, it starts with staying indoors as much as possible, he said, and using recirculated air settings in the car and for home air conditioning. It’s also always a good idea to use good hygiene and avoid touching your eyes.

Other tips include:

Use lubricating eye drops.

  • Johnson said it’s important to look carefully at a label to ensure a product is designed for lubricating and moisturizing the eyes. “Preferably preservative free,” he added. “It’s almost bewildering when you go to a pharmacy and look at all potential eye drops that one could put in the eyes.”

Consider wearing glasses instead of contacts

  • “If one is a contact lens wearer, unfortunately the contact lens potentially can bind particulate matter and extend the duration of symptoms,” he said.

Take more frequent digital breaks

  • Now, with more people working from home and students doing virtual learning, this is a rising issue. “It’s just more digital eye strain from being on devices; this smoke will only exacerbate that,” Johnson said.

Use a cool or warm compress depending on what condition is affecting your eyes

A cool compress held over closed eyelids will calm down inflammation and get you past that irritation from smoke, Johnson said. “If your eyes are really aggravated from the smoke because you’ve been outdoors — and your eyes are red, inflamed and feel uncomfortable, often it feels good to take a cool compress and put it on your closed eyelids,” he said.

While answering questions about smoke irritation, Johnson said he hopes people remain protective of their eyes.

“Just be good to your eyes just like one needs to be good to your lungs during these conditions.”